How Limbic System Therapy Can Help Resolve Trauma

When we’re working with clients who have experienced trauma, targeting the limbic system can make our interventions more effective.

But what exactly is limbic system therapy, and why is it so useful in treating trauma?

In the video below, Bessel van der Kolk, MD answers these questions and explains why he uses this kind of approach with his patients.

Take a look – it’s just under 5 minutes.

For more on how to work with the limbic system to reverse the physiological imprint of trauma, please check out the Treating Trauma Master Series.

You’ll get insights from: Bessel van der Kolk, MD; Peter Levine, PhD; Pat Ogden, PhD; and Ruth Lanius, MD, PhD.

Now we’d like to hear from you. How will you use this idea in your work? Please leave a comment below.


Please Leave A Comment



  1. Jasmine says:

    I absolutely agreed with the idea of a traumatized person needed a physical experience that contradicting with one’s negative memory. To put it in practice means we have to acknowledge their feeling and listen to one’s feeling attentively, and seriously walk-through the experience with one to re-learn to recognise/differentiate the real danger and the reaction to negative memory. To totally ignore the reality of one’s experience and take it as it all reaction to negative memory is not only not helpful but to further traumatize him/her.

  2. Some people view themselves as ‘non-violent’ individuals and so do not feel inclined to do any Marshall Arts course because they interpret it as being ‘violent’. Yes, it’s understood that trauma does not sit in that part of the brain that involves reason or insight, however, to change the way a person’s body reacts to trauma, is it absolutely necessary to have a direct PHYSICAL experience that directly contradicts what the body learnt or can such an experience be mental and emotional, in cases where individuals do not like Marshall Arts?
    Suzette Misrachi
    CaN-ACOPSMI specialist:

    • Suzette, I had a severe motorbike accident when I was 17 that left me in a coma for 7-months. My physiotherapist had to re-teach me everything again after I regained consciousness. I now have 4 Uni degrees in the Humanities. The clearest reason I found for my recovery was offered by Dr (x55) Viktor Frankl – who survived Auschwitz during WW2′ alongside my late-father – was that he could give meaning to his experience.

    • Jan Kingston says:

      Well, it doesn’t need to be martial arts. It can definitely be not directly physical, Suzette. Involving some part of the body as one imagines something, say someone has been assaulted or raped–and, for example, putting up a hand and saying “stop” while either doing or imagining a pushing movement still affects and changes the brain. I do Somatic Experiencing and Feldenkrais work with people, both of which effectively demonstrate this. In a Feldenkrais class, we may do a whole lesson with actual movement on one side and then imagine the movements being done on the other side (even at greater speed), and it is amazing how much effect that has. Sometimes the imagined side improves in it’s movement more than the side that was actually moved.

      Of note is that Christopher Reeves imagined that he could move his fingers for quite some time before he died. Physically that was “impossible” with his completely severed spinal cord. However, he would sit and imagine his fingers moving, and before he died, he actually _did_ move his fingers and really surprised his doctors. So it is amazing what the brain can do.

      There is a good video on YouTube of Peter Levine working with a man named Ray who was a vet that is a good demo of the Somatic Experiencing and him doing movement, but much smaller and more slowly than originally.

      The important thing though is that the body _is_ actually involved. The person can imagine something or actually move something, but the key is that it involves the body. It’s not just the narrative of what they _would_ do, something they would be in their head about. It’s not just angrily expressing emotions. It is retraining the experience in the brain by involving the body.

      • Anya says:

        I think at a very basic level, any movement even if seemingly miniscule reassures the brain that you CAN move rather than being trapped, physically or emotionally, thus beginning the pathway to greater movement and freedom to come.

        If a client is not comfortable with martial arts or even tai chi, qi gong is a gentle, centering alternative that also helps you get in touch with the power that comes from within. What you might call the far eastern movement arts all put an emphasis on the ability to control one’s mind, or as Shifu put it in the Kung Fu Panda series, “Before the battle of the fist comes the battle of the mind!”

  3. Sharon Greenlee says:

    I suggested to my trauma client that she go online and watch the Three Yoga Warrior Poses and practice each of them,, Imagining that she is wearing her favorite female superhero’s Cape and Boots. The Warrior poses are Also connected to the 3rd Energy Chakra (Solar Plexus)/the seat of our emotions.

  4. Lucia Schmidt says:

    In working with kids. I use a big gymnastic ball throw it towards the child and the child defends itself and pushes the ball back to me. Children love to jump on a matras and shout while defending and pushing. This is a lot of fun.

  5. Sherr shaw says:

    I’m an psych NP student and wanting to learn more to apply it to my own practice. Thanks.

  6. Sharon Greenlee says:

    I would have loved either of you to give more specific examples of “basic training”, for example with a person (under the influence of alcohol) jumps off of a roof to get away from two men that she believes will rape her.

    Or, after a boyfriend pushes a girlfriend down the stairs during a fight.
    I work with two females who experience extreme trauma from each of these events.
    Many thanks…

    • Jan Kingston says:

      I agree. Would have been interesting to hear responses to these situations. Telling my clients the military and going through basic training doesn’t really fill this gap for me with my clients. Especially when some of my clients are vets and went through basic training and are recovering from that.

  7. Karina Inzunza says:

    If trauma is center in the not reasoning part of the brain such as limbic system and amygdala. I would work with the body .. I would work with mindfulness, and exposure ( maybe to encourage client to take more risks.).

    • I had a severe Traumatic Brain Injury in 1986 that left me n a coma for 7-months. After I studied and realized the complexity of issues my late-mother faced in arranging my recovery, I asked her how she managed to do it? Especially as she was a music teacher”
      She said she prayed for guidance and when she woke up she arranged different types of physical treatments e.g physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy. It must have worked because it gave me meaning in my life – including a distinction for Logotherapy.
      Frankl was asked how a victim finds meaning? He said its essential for a victim to be able to set a future goal for themselves that they believe they can achieve.

  8. Theresa says:

    I don’t know could use some guidance as to what training might be useful for this in the room with a client?



  9. Tanya says:

    Hi, i have been trying to subscribe for the Gold subsciption but it states my time ix ahead anf I am in Australia. Can you please advise how I can rectify this.
    Tanya Paech

  10. Maria says:

    I’m sorry to say I have had trouble with the free recordings as they freeze and start again. I have been using Chrome on my iPad. I have only now noticed your help sheet and your recommendation that all other tabs should be closed. Would it be possible to kindly re run the episodes or if not provide scripts? I am very interested in understanding the subject of trauma and found the parts I could listen to very interesting.

    Kindest regards,

  11. Jan Kingston says:

    Enjoyed this very much, but some concern about Bessel van Der Kolk’s comments about 17-18-year-old recruits in the military being “good for nothing”. Ouch. I totally understand his point which is helpful and, of course, valid. But I had been going to share this with some I know who are in the military, some who desperately need this kind of help, to help open them to the idea of trauma being caught in their brain/body/limbic system and reducing the terrible stigma and shame and “craziness” that they feel. Whether the 17-18-year-olds were “troublemakers,” or lost souls of some other kind from bad family backgrounds who wanted to escape their families and thus joined the military, or good kids who had other reasons for joining the military, basic training could potentially have the effect Dr. Van Der Kolk describes. (Though it can also make those who are shutting off due to their past experiences shut off even further….). Bottom line: I’m quite certain that military folks, hearing the military recruits described this way, could A) be immensely hurt/shamed. Of course they wouldn’t show it, as not showing emotion is a cultural reality for them. However, they may recognize themselves in the wording, and maybe it _does_ indeed describe them, but the feelings of shame/hurt could lead them to withdraw from seeking this kind of treatment (because who wants to be said to be “good for nothing”). So even having the comment in there could potentially lead them to miss the actual point and thus miss really important and great potential help, or secondarily, the comment could B) anger them whether they could fit that description or not, as the military people I know are very much about honor and sacrifice and strength and etc.. It saddens me that I cannot share this. I will share the knowledge. May want to consider editing that particular remark for future sales. Thank you anyway for sharing. Love Dr. VdK. He has made such a contribution. Just ouch on the wording.

  12. Mandy Hennessy says:

    I shall continue to use humour and loving kindness in the face of verbal abuse and thoughtless behaviour from the teenagers in the residential care home where I work. This video has confirmed for me that this is the right way to rewrite their expected responses from others, who have rejected them and neglected them when they were little so they no longer trust adults. I shall encourage the staff team to replicate my calm and loving behaviour so that these children, who feel they are unlovable and worthless, begin to react to the world differently because they will begin to believe that they are lovable and worthwhile individuals who have a future that doesn’t have to be in another institution or worse. Although their responses can be very hurtful and upsetting to those who are caring for them, I am now closer to understanding their projected venomous invective as being their protective shell, that tries to prevent further hurt to that young person. Thank you for this wisdom!

  13. Very Helpful to be reminded of these very important points, in such a cohernt and useful way,

  14. Barbara Caspy says:

    I’m looking forward to this week’s seminar about working with the Limbic system. I’ve already begun to encourage clients who have survived trauma to participate in physically integrative experiences such as yoga, walking, dancing and martial arts. I’m hoping to find more of these type of approaches to work with my more elderly clients and other clients who have physical challenges that make it difficult for them to participate in these physical activities.

  15. Tassillie Dent says:

    Limbic System Therapy is a practice that I am becoming more familiar with. I had been previously trained in drama and movement therapy but the last few years I had been using more top down therapy programs which were mandated by the agency I worked in. I now have a renewed interest in integrating Pat Ogdens sensory motor psychotherapy, epressive arts therapy and concepts and exercises found in yoga and meditation practises in my work with children and youth. Bessel van der Kolk has provided validation for this bottom up direction in therapy.

  16. Bonnie says:

    I work with cancer patients and so much of their experience of treatment is in their bodies. I believe if they were walking with mild exercise the week following their treatment, they may experience a better sense of wellness. I often use mantras with my patients and one that fosters a belief via imagery of their bodies becoming stronger. It would be helpful for them to know that their brain is working in tandem with them to come to wellness.

  17. The information supports the work done by Marion Rosen. I am a Rosen Method Movement Teacher and Bodywork Intern. We meet the truth that is held in the muscles and allow for the possibility of something different through gentle touch.

  18. Pete Kinnear says:

    traumatised combat veterans appear to response very well to healing through working with horses from programmes I have seen about this

  19. Gertrude says:

    Foreign people of color are lured into the US army by promse of US citizenship. But that does not negate the many young white people, and sure some of those good for nothing, but also those where being in the military is hereditary pride, are lured into the US army by financial promises, where they will earn more then they possibly could in civil society or simply at least have a job as opposed to being jobless. Very saddened that Bessel apparently did not watch the docu about US soldiers suffering PTSD, sharing how they were mindprogrammed into maiming, raping and killing the enemy but never unprogrammed when they got home to their families, where it proves that PTSD is contagious and not only damages wives but also children. But then again i seem to remember that the referred docu was made by french and banned in the USA. So much for freedom of speech.I also remember one of Bessel’s lectures where he says that all veterans suffer braindamage when having gone on a mission. Bessel clearly also did not watch the docu, shown on dutch tv, proving how wars are now perpetual for the financial gain of the 1 % elite, with Chris Hedges as one of the speakers. Personnally my trauma got fully triggered when trying to take a women’s defense class and i simply could not proceed to the second lesson. Should we learn violence to counter the powerlessness we suffered when up against strong fathers attempting to murder us in a violent fit of rage? Rage already a symptom when chronic stress is topped up with acute stress,damaging our children or pets? There must be better ways to strengthen becoming empowered. Sadly in my case it comes with again deep sadness and grief. Having to acknowledge that the powers in our world have destroyed our families and sabotaged my efforts in creating one. Even with all my CPTSD/DID symptoms having their families destroyed, children neglecting their elderly parents, is common in my dutch neighbourhood, including for people who did not suffer any trauma as children.

    • Jan Kingston says:

      Yes. I also commented on this “good for nothing” comment. :( I am so sorry. It sounds like the remark hit you deeply, as it did me. Sending warmth to you, Gertrude.

    • Wendy Tuck says:

      Thank you for this. We seem to see the choices as either someone who gets what they want, whether 1% or President or school bully by using any means necessary- and some people see the stance and use of that kind of power as the best protection from attack. Or you see people being thoughtful, kind, and respectful derided as weak, ineffective, and stupid. So I see my options To gain power ie safety? as either be a bully Ruler or be ineffective. I long for an alternative model. I’m not sure I could or would want to kill or maim someone, even if self-defense. Power to stop, prevent, restrain, hold off abuse of power and violence- is that possible?

  20. Elena Sante says:

    Basic training? Is that the best example you can think of?
    That is the most callous and rediculous suggestion and traumatizing in itself.
    Send the most vulnerable and underserved, mostly people of color, to the military and then
    off to brutalize and kill people overseas? I hope we can do better than that.

    • Stacey says:

      You are underestimating the resiliency in people Elena. This is why people are becoming weaker today. Granted, people who have experienced physical and emotiional trauma are already in a vulnerable state. However, it’s not “straight” basic training. It was given as an example and needs to be taken in context, don’t you think?

      • Scott Berger says:

        Like your point. This is been true since the countries beginning. The American revolution started in Boston and most of the leaders had some experience in the Massachusetts state militia. Without that experience they could never have pulled off Lexington and Concorde.

      • Scott Berger says:

        I left a long detailed analysis of what van der Kolk actually said on this clip but because my computer was not connected to Wi-Fi when I hit the return button I lost it. This time I use another method short and sweet. I think the wave of the future is the way of the Dalai Lama not George Patton.

  21. Antonius Liket says:

    how many people have been traumatised just because of the training and pressure that has been put upon the young soldiers also. I think that telling it the way Bessel does is not only helpful, because people can have the idea that pressuring a kid will help to overcome trauma….

  22. Marcia says:

    Sometimes we do not have any verbal abilities to process early abuse. It is imperative to know the history of a client as we are trying to help them solve their puzzle. Due to my personal issues regarding trauma history from early childhood, how it affected me later in life is why I find this information quite helpful in professional and personal life. In 2006 I had a motor planning stroke in the right hemisphere that caused paralysis of the left side. Had to learn to walk again as if I was a toddler once the paralysis lessened. It took months to get back part of that motor planning ability. My history was full of traumas from early on but I think it helped me persevere to walk again. The early abuse taught me how to survive and thrive on my own. I continue to thrive with not only research knowledge, schooling and but my own personal research. I have found that all the traumas have taught me something about coping through trauma. I never fully recovered from the stroke as I fell early in the healing process, breaking tibia and fibula. If I had been honored to heal traumas of past and the hospital fiasco, I might have not broken more bones thereafter. Not enough time is given to the healing process and it is imperative to do it correctly. The reason I write this today I realized we are all talking about the negative aspects of brain trauma, but this article came today on my stroke forum of which I participate:

    Jon Stone, a consultant neurologist and honorary senior lecturer at the University of Edinburgh, replies:

    Strokes are areas of damage in the brain caused by blocked blood vessels or bleeding. They can set off a host of problems, including paralysis or impaired vision. Cognitive and behavioral changes after stroke are common yet often overlooked because the effects may be subtle.

    Friends and relatives may report a personality change that is hard to pin down. Some of these changes, such as low mood and anxiety, are more likely to be related to a person’s feelings about having a stroke than to any harm to the brain. A genuine shift may occur, however, when the frontal lobes sustain damage. The frontal lobes play an essential role in regulating emotion, decision making and judgment. Strokes that affect the frontal lobes can lead to a range of problems, such as apathy or emotionalism (an overflow of emotion without necessarily feeling that emotion).

    A stroke that hits the cerebellum can also trigger a personality shift. This brain region is vital to many aspects of executive function. Damage here can bring about disinhibition, which often manifests as inappropriate behavior. Other “negative” personality changes include poor decision making, aggression and irritability.

    Less common are cases of “positive” personality changes, in which people reportedly become happier and even nicer. Surveys suggest such changes occur rarely, but the frequency may be underreported. They might arise if a person has experienced a mild frontal lobe impairment that has led to a small increase in apathy and less anxiety. A slight loss of inhibition may also explain why a stroke victim might begin to experience more positive emotions.

    Yet personality changes after a stroke could have nothing to do with afflicted brain areas. Serious illness often leads people to reevaluate their priorities in life and change their attitudes toward others. For example, British television broadcaster Andrew Marr, who suffered a stroke, said that his stroke made him a “nicer and happier person” and less “self-absorbed.”

    Clinicians understandably tend to focus on the negative aspects of stroke and other brain diseases, but positive personality change is a reality for some patients and deserves further study.

    I hope this training shows us the upside of learning about our brain and nervous system as it is what has kept me going since I was a young child. I used to watch people and wonder if they had thoughts in their head before I knew the meaning of that word “thoughts.”

    Sometimes even the military find out that their trauma in the war are only part of the hidden brain malfunction. I find this over and over again with vets. The military provides a family that some of these soldiers never had. It can be a great healing advantage when they come home from service. The work once started can provide them hope and not just a bandaid on their physical scars. My brain inside has scars that will never go away but I need to work around the area and walk again. The brain is so versatile but needs the direction.

  23. It’s great if clients wanted to do and could do activities like those in basic training and then feel that sense of achievement. And I agree with Jeanne Teleia that you don’t want the dehumanising aspects of the military. It is about what the client is ready and able to do.

  24. Wendy Tuck says:

    I think I had a misconception that a patient could just take a martial arts course, or do theatre and that in itself would rewire the brain. But I’m sensing that the rewiring experiences are better if they start where the person felt the same point of fear, high alert, high sense of danger that they felt at the time of the trauma. For instance, that moment before a person walks on-stage, they feel their heart pounding, sweaty palms, huge fright and realize those are the same feelings they had when they had to testify against their dad in court. And when they are experiencing that fright and still walk on stage, that’s the different experience /outcome that could contradict the automatic expectations the brain carries. And afterwards, they can know “I did it. I was terrified and I did it and it was ok. I can do that again.” Or if they re in a model mugging session, and see a man coming toward them. Yes, they feel the chest tighten, the drop in the stomach, but, then, in the midst of starting to experiencing that terror/paralysis, they still raise their leg to kick, then they do have a different outcome. Then their new experience, even with the intense feelings of fear, is a success. Perhaps there is fear of intimacy and a client, tho terrified of betrayal, trusts and opens up to their therapist, and it works. They feel better. Or perhaps they argue back, although in the past, that resulted in a terrible beating. There is a moment when a client is facing a familiar and paralyzing fear within a new situation -similar to the trauma -and then they can have an experience that is a game changer. Would it work as well with a “cold” experience, one that doesn’t connect a client’s powerful fear reaction to what happened before to what is different this time? If a client’s terror is dying in a car wreck, and the new experience is one of playing in a band, synchronizing with others, would it speak to the brain and rewire the old trauma response? Does the new experience of playing in a band rewire the brain’s expected response that occurred when the client nearly died in the wreck, or does one limbic experience have to be mirrored/related to another limbic experience? Would experiencing the terror of what happened before and contradicting that with a related but different experience, with a different outcome, be necessary? I understand the client’s needing to experience with their body that they won, they succeeded, they survived, and can do it again.

  25. Nick says:

    Dear Bessel,

    The US Army learned basic training from the Dutch Army???

    Doesn’t every army in the world do basic training, and hasn’t it always been that way, since long before the Romans?

    • Scott Berger says:

      I suppose van der Kolb was jesting about Dutch influence on American martial skills. Obviously Americans were British before they were Americans and learned their trade from the British. George Washington‘s Continental Army actually reversed the colors of the redcoats as their uniform’s design. There is something to the fact that Washington was denied an officers position in the British army while lesser Colonials were accepted that spurred him on to a learn his craft in a most deadly manner.

      • Gertrude says:

        Actually in Afghanistan the US army did adopt dutch style, because it worked better.

        • Scott Berger says:

          I don’t want to get into a text argument with you. I simply was giving the good doctor the benefit of the doubt because he said that Americans learned their martial abilities from the Ducth. I think it is self evident he means the colonialists and since he is obviously of Dutch origin he was being facetious stating that the Dutcht taught the colonists to fight in a military fashion. The Dutch did help us with a generous loan when Washington started to become successful only because the French joined the cause but before that they turned down John Adams when he begged them for a loan at the beginning of the revolution. Now I need to check my intentions and motivations and discontinue responding to this thread because it’s now becoming more about me than about progressing the discussion forward. I wish everyone blessings and a non-traumatized life.

  26. Mike Wallace, LPC says:

    I think of this with phobic patients who, when able over time to better tolerate the exposure to their fear through exposure, have a new sense of freedom.

    • Nancy says:

      Interesting concept…

  27. Experiential therapy has always been my go-to therapy. Having clients do something they are slightly afraid of, very slightly at first, like running fast down a long set of stairs, builds resilience and a new experience in the body. But ‘basic training’ in the military is also often dehumanizing and we must be careful NOT to recommend anything to clients that also includes elements of shaming or that is overly hyper masculine in focus. Gentleness works better.

  28. virbry says:

    i became addicted to ballet as a young adult. this explains why.

  29. Dianne Allen says:

    Twelve weeks basic training, now that’s different psychotherapy!

  30. Elsa says:

    I am wondering how this affects the “window of tolerance.” In other words, as our self conception changes to one of someone more powerful, does this almost automatically enlarge the window of tolerance?

  31. Greg White says:

    So far I am not hearing reference to the claim of a cutting edge psycho-spiritual neurological discovery, that it is the heart that knows, full five seconds before the brain.My understanding is that the brain is the projector, the heart the film, so to speak!!??
    Like to hear your comments.

  32. Aviva Bock says:

    I thought Bessel might mention how effective for trauma it was when returning warriors were greeted with drum playing and dancing.

  33. Elaine Jost says:

    I meant overfunctioning, not obstructionist

  34. Elaine Jost says:

    Thank you very much. I have a client survivor of severe trauma who needs to do things beyond her endurance so she knows in her gut that she can still survive. She does endurance swimming and also does this at work. The swimming is therapeutic to her, while obstructionist at work is more of a reenactment of the trauma. The information in this film is very affirming of the work we are doing, while putting a clear framework around it for me!

  35. David Mensink says:

    Thanks Bessel and Ruth! For me, it depends on the client and the complexity of their trauma. In some cases, I rely on the arts–music, drama, painting. For others, a more physically demanding approach like martial arts, runnjing, gymnastics, skating works best. Still others prefer things like yoga and meditation and tai lkchi.

  36. A. Gilson says:

    I’d be curious to hear how this can be applied to elite soldiers, for whom their training has become overlearned or no longer adaptive. I work with individuals who cannot turn off their aggressive reflexes, and don’t appear to benefit from any martial art engagement. So what do we offer the person for whom the temperament reflects “to stay alive I must be ready to fight at all times?” What is the ‘message’ that dance or yoga conveys to contradict that belief?

  37. Thank you Ruth and Bessel for your fascinating and nice short insights. They have helped me to more or less complete a nagging jig-saw! I should explain that many years ago I discovered, as it were by chance, how to relax and ultimately cure my years of persistent lower back pain (apparently untreatable without risky surgery). Needless to say my quest for an explanation was treated with ridicule, in the absence of ‘proper’ statistical analysis, by many medical researchers, osteopaths, chiropractors and regular doctors. And worse, for those professionals, when I casually demonstrated my simple relaxation protocol to anyone who would listen, it often led on to immediate relief and apparent cure for a wide variety of so-called incurable musculoskeletal cases, as well as phobias and infertility. I should add that I am in fact an engineer-physicist and I have gradually put together a theory comprising loss of a loved one, or a loved situation, into a mind-body-brain jig-saw — thanks to many free NICABM reports and parallels with my own observations. Now, Bessel’s insights today re trauma memory replacement confirms a lot of what I suspected but could not prove. So, as ever, thank you dear Ruth and Bessel again. Tom Lucas, London, England.

    • Michael says:

      Is your simple relaxation protocol proprietary? Or is it something available for everyone to look into?

    • Julia Rainsford says:

      I’d love to hear your theory, Tom! I have a chronic pain condition due to neck vertebrae damage, and have also had lymphoma affecting my neck, thyroid and optic nerve. I have always been interested in the fact that a lot of my pain is in my neck region and wondered what the psychological root of that might be. Not having a voice, for example, or feeling like I can’t “stand tall” in the world. I am also currently working with a group of people who have experienced a lot of grief/loss in a short period of time group of time (family deaths). Of course I have also experienced my own fair share of grief and loss in life. I would love to hear what conclusions you have come to and your mind-body-brain jigsaw :-) If you care to make contact:

      • Anya says:

        I think you are right to see a metaphoric connection, Julia. I am dealing with daily pain while healing from Late Stage Lyme Disease that went undiagnosed/misdiagnosed for over twenty five years. While my healing team and I have made enormous progress, the area of pain that is still holding out is one of the spots where I was traumatized and hit most frequently as a child. The other area is also where I was repeatedly hit for speaking up against the injustice of my existence. Thus, I am approaching it from this standpoint and working for release on multiple levels. I hope you will find relief as well!

        • Karen says:

          Hi Anya, My sister sounds like she has a similar story to yours. I am looking for help everywhere for her and I wondered if you might share some information about who your team has been and what has helped you.

          • Anya says:

            Hello, Karen,

            Sure, I would be willing to share what has helped me. I am not a professional Lyme expert, so it is intended only as information, not diagnosis or anything official. Healing from Lyme is not an off-the-rack kind of thing, so it requires taking what resonates and working with that, then tweaking as you make progress. Healing IS possible, not just “management of symptoms” or “remission.” I am in the small minority who believes that, but we ARE out here! I say that because I know hearing those words spoken casually during one of the talks given by a Lyme expert gave me hope in a powerful way.

            I am thinking that in this forum is probably not the best place, but I would be happy to email you if you wish to share an address.

            • Jan Kingston says:

              Hi Anya,

              I’d be interested too in your experience with Lyme. I also believe it can be healed. I’m curious as to your thoughts. My email is (You suggested Karen email you). Not sure if they blank out emails like Google can sometimes do.

              Best wishes,

  38. Stacey says:

    As some of the comments here have noted, using military tactics to heal trauma really does work. Granted, not for everyone, but there have been many cases where abuse victims have pushed themselves to the limits, and have seen excellent results. These are essentially approaches without actual communication. It works.

  39. In my practice, i utilize yoga with clients as a way to establishing healthy connections between the brain and the body through the breath. Yoga also assist clients who tend to dissociate, integrate or come back into the body. Long term sus stance abuse have exacerbated women’s self loathing and self harm and they appear to be completely disconnected from their bodies. It has proven extremely helpful for those women who adopt yoga as a daily practice.
    Daniela Riccelli, LCSW, MCAP, Eng, dancer, yoga trainer

    • Anya says:

      Is there any form of yoga that could work for someone who isn’t able to get down on the floor and has knee issues?

      • Jan Kingston says:

        This isn’t yoga, Anya, but you might try Feldenkrais. Feldenkrais is very calming and integrating to the nervous system and, in my experience (15 years Feldenkrais teacher), has the benefits of yoga, but can be more able to be approached in a graduated way with what a person’s body is ready to tolerate than yoga which can be a lot of pushing ones’ self into certain postures. I’m sure not all yoga is that way. A great yoga teacher may not be pushy. But I know Feldenkrais specifically has an exploratory and self-accepting view. I went from having fibromyalgia (much later diagnosed as Lyme) with a lot of pain and unable to use my body, to becoming a runner, on no medications for pain (only thyroid and hormones) and running half-marathons and a marathon. I know not everyone wants to run, and that is not necessary. The idea is to incrementally expand your capacity at a pace that your brain wants to allow. Where people go with that is different. For some it’s being able to be in business. For some it’s physical activity. For some it’s getting on the floor with their grandkids. That’s kind of the cool thing about Feldenkrais. Nervous system benefits and flexibility of what you do with it. And a Feldenkrais teacher could help you find ways to get to the floor without hurting your knees. Lessons can also be done in sitting. Best wishes!

    • Enjoyed hearing about your approach to embody through yoga.

  40. I️ utilize yoga with my clients as a way to establishing healthy connections between the brain and the body through the breath. Yoga also assist clients who tend to dissociate, integrate or come back into the body. Long term sus stance abuse have exacerbated women’s self loathing and self harm and they appear to be completely disconnected from their bodies. It has proven extremely helpful for those women who adopt yoga as a daily practice.
    Daniela Riccelli, LCSW, MCAP, Eng, dancer, yoga trainer

  41. Gail Jacobs says:

    This is so true! Many of my sexual abuse survivor clients have gone on to enter Spartan races where they are pushed to their maximum and have maintained miraculous recovery. It makes me wonder how many of the sexually acting out clients or workaholic clients are striving to master what a grueling physical competition might change…..
    This is how the military trains people for combat. The problem I saw in my work with the USMC is that it is the only means of training for trauma they glorify (physical). When this meets real trauma, combat is out of control, the shame of responding to something previously believed to be mastered is devastating in its shame. The work on men and shame is vital to helping our military heal. This is particularly true when they leave the military, the glue that held the belief system together. That combined with loss of meaning and often loss/ threatened loss of marriage/relationship is the predictor of suicide I most commonly see. We must find ways to reprogram these people is a way that speaks to their skills! Thank you for your work, making a huge difference.

    • Gertrude says:

      You better watch some docus on how soldiers are trained in the USA for combat. Bootcamps for young people training them in similar ways have already been met with courtcases with accusations of serious abuse. Also watch a french docu, banned in the USA, about US veterans speaking about their PTSD. Mindprogrammed to maim, kill and rape the enemy to never be unprogrammed when one gets home to one’s family is one of the comments that most stuck in my mind.

    • We’ll said.

    • Scott Berger says:

      Very succinct and informative observation Gail, thank you! I wrote a comment a little before yours and I question whether idealizing Roman soldiers can in anyway be a useful example of how to heal the limbic system. I would agree as a first step, especially for those inclined to like physical contact, physical conditioning is one source or relieving the stress of frozen trauma. On the other hand, it is a temporary release and not corrective solution. This is why I disagree with Dr. van der Kolb.

  42. I have used these ideas for many years now. I understand the unifying force in music and dance, for soldiers, it’s marching together. I choreograph dance through active imagination in movement. A dance that is empowering is Flamenco. It empowered Roma to express their power against oppression. I wrote about these ideas in my book, Dance of Psyche, copyright 2002. See under publication link.

    • Scott Berger says:

      Sounds very healing Dr. Campbell.

  43. Aviva Bock says:

    I encourage all of the people I see to use alternative practitioners for their health needs.

  44. Aviva Bock says:

    I really like the way Bessel talks about resetting the body after trauma. having just seen “Goodbye Christopher Robin , I think there are some very good examples in this movie of just that as ‘the young child of AA Milne without any idea of what is father is carrying, helps to reset his father’s brain as they create and play and deal with bursting balloons together.

    It also makes clear why summer camps for children that focus on ‘outdoor adventure and challenge can be so good for our developing children.

  45. This ties in with Frankl’s ‘ecce homo’ technique i.e. if a ‘new victim’ can identify with someone who’s undergone a similar experience to them and has overcome it, it will give the new victim inner strength to overcome their own problem.

    If the new victim gets other forms of support as well, he/she can give meaning to their experience.

  46. I am an advocate for parents & grandparents attempting to regain their children out of Iowa’s gigantic CPS CINA program, rated near the worst in the US by the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual report. Many of these parents & grandparents have been listed on Iowa’s Child Abuse Registry (now numbering 30,000) & thereby have lost their jobs, their status in their own communities, and their rights to have anything to do with children. Iowa’s primary Perpetrators are Sen. Charles Grassley, Tom Miller (posing as Iowa’s AG but acting against Iowa’s Constitution), and Chief Justice (Court of Appeals) Mary Tabor. Gov. Branstad (who began working with Miller in 1982 to change Iowa’s laws & legislature) now has gone to his punishment as AG Ambassador to China.
    Iowa has just lost our DHS Insurance with AmeriHealth which leaves dependent Iowans in DHS (children in CPS, Elder, & Handicapped) without coverage, as well as the 4800 workers in DHS if they were relying on their DHS policy. Iowa is in “failed state” conditions with all safety-net and environmental & business systems defunct or contaminated. SOS -SOS -SOS

    • Randi says:

      Oh, what a mess, I commiserate with you! I work for a non-profit in Central PA that has designed an attachment/relational protocol at our Therapeutic Visitation Program. We run up against the brutality of the system in CPS every day! They have now hired us. We work to alleviate increased trauma to bio parents and their children in foster care by creating nurturing and supportive environments for visitations. We also designed and teach a curriculum for parent education that is based on the knowledge that most of the parents have trauma themselves, and therefore it begins with building trust through safety and relationship with them. This year, we are being trained in the NMT model by Bruce Perry of the Child Trauma Academy. Slowly we are learning and educating others in the system about how to treat people with trauma. It is certainly an uphill battle, but it is working! We are seeing families reunited with healthy behaviors AND those unable to parent recognize it and are more willing to TPR, instead of fighting through the courts and their kids languishing in the system. This compresses time, saves money for the county, and, most importantly, is better for the children, who are tomorrow’s parents. We have learned that change takes time, is not linear and applies to people, families, and systems, too! The “business model” does not work for this, so funding needs to become a priority to politicians, academics, and donors. Blessings on Iowa. (Congrats, Buckeyes☺)

  47. Lynne Zendel says:

    Thank you ,as always for your succinct ,helpful tools and understanding on the brain and body knowledge and is reinforcing and of such merit the work you disseminate .

  48. Norma Jaeger says:

    I am new to this work. I am not a therapist. I am a court specialist working to bring understanding of trauma into the operations of drug courts and mental health courts and veterans courts. I advocate (and provide consultation and training) to help judges and other members of the court team understand the often profound histories of trauma of the participants in these problem-solving courts. While we try to obtain actual trauma specific treatments for our participants as part of the overall treatment plan they are engaged in, I am working to change some of the direct practices and approaches employed in the court interactions with participants.

    I am wondering if changes in the experiences that our participants have with the justice system and with particular members of that system, who are persons of authority and power, can be a part of the new experiences that can rewire the brain, impact the predispositions from the limbic system. My efforts are specifically directed at improving the retention rate of participants to the point of completion of the drug or other problem-solving court program, which in turn has a positive impact on their future offending behavior.

    In addition, I am working with a program called Phoenix Multisport that works with persons with substance use disorders through sober physical or other creative recreational activity, to sustain recovery. Perhaps a means of limbic system treatment?

    • Heather Walker says:

      Norma, your work is very important.

      I know of one young man in particular struggling with mental health issues who routinely experienced violence from police officers upon arrest as a young offender and later an adult causing a lot of confusion for him as he grew up with respect to the concept of respecting authority. He moved out of the area in which he once lived and has experienced more respectful interactions with other police services under a variety of circumstances and has developed the perspective that not all police officers view him the same way. He has though never returned to his home city as he is terrified of the same abuse of authority and harm to his body.

  49. Scott Berger says:

    Dr. Van Der Kolk idealizes and romanticizes military and martial arts as a way to heal trauma and to make an individual stronger and more resilient. I wonder how much military and martial arts trauma this man has experienced? The best way is the a warrior of the heart not a warrior of the body. I once told him personally about having a Kundlini experience that fills me with white soothing and healing energy. He basically said my cerebellum was screwed up.

    I have achieved belts in Krav Magra and Tae Kwon Do. I’ve run hundreds of long distance races including five marathons. For a two year period I trained six out of seven days a week doing par-course. From the ages of 12 to 18 I was intensely trained by college all stars and professionals learning the fundamentals of basketball I can tell you unequivocally this is not the way to heal the limbic system because I still suffered from clinical depression, anxiety, and panic attacks.

    While physical training was important and helped me to better understand “how the body keeps the score” it wasn’t until I achieved and broke through to a level of energy work that has almost completely dissipated any residue of not only my former disorders but every day physical energy knots that I can now unhesitantly say I’m becoming calmer and more serene every day. I thought this fellow was supposed to be the foremost expert on PTSD? Who are the people who suffer most from PTSD? I think that’s a self-evident answer.

    • Susan. Therapist in Berkeley says:

      Yes. I agree. Crises First Responder Therapist. Awareness, consciousness and allowing Flow The energy heals. Thank you for your response. I encourage clients who had child abuse to surf. I recently saw there is a program encouraging PTSD and wounded veterans to surf.

      • Scott Berger says:

        Surfing would seem an incredible way of responding to the natural forces of nature while having enough physical challenge to unknot energy knots. I would think anything requiring some physical challenge but more importantly emotional and intellectual mindfulness is the way to most efficiently encourage and to strengthen subtle energy in the body. I still find the analogy of using a Roman soldier troubling because training to be a killer sooner or later if implemented in real life will damage the psyche. Sometimes I wish I didn’t know how to lethally destroy a person. This knowledge in itself is enough to lie heavily on my mind. Thanks for your thoughtful response!

        • Anya says:

          As there is no possibility of my running a triathlon or becoming a ninja any time soon, I am glad these energy work methods are so powerful! I’d also add gratefulness as a re-wiring technique. For more on that, check out the TEDtalk by Dr. Amit Sood on working around the brain’s predisposition to look for danger and what is “wrong.”

        • Anya says:

          Another potential helper for healing PTSD/CPTSD is a form of scalp acupuncture. That technique, taught by Drs Jason and Linds Hao in New Mexico, has been used successfully on combat veterans to reduce or eliminate symptoms, even on phantom leg pain of amputees. I’ve had PTSD symptoms since I was a toddler, though I was not diagnosed for many years. I’ve worked on the PTSD through a number of therapies, but the strongest and most effective have been the scalp acupuncture and EMDR. Acupuncture in general reduced the nightmares substantially over a decade ago, and the scalp acupuncture helped more layers come up to be released. Triggers were reduced as well as symptoms.

    • Kim says:

      Interesting viewpoint. Thanks for sharing.

  50. Chantal says:

    I think it’s important to keep in mind that the brain can’t tell the difference between real and imagined experiences. So, even visualizing oneself as strong and capable can lead to changes in how we see ourselves.

  51. Tobias Schreiber says:

    Thank you for sharing this useful re-understandingof trauma and our perception of the world, events we experience, our place in it, and how to act to survive.

  52. Marcia says:

    So helpful with the clients who have alcohol and drug addictions that the PTSD client has often used to escape those traumas. The limbic system wants to party and avoid the seriousness of life, to avoid those painful memories they have numbed those feelings with substances oftentimes. We send children out to the military and possibly war when they are already aroused from past traumas or poor attachment early on. This can be harmful in treatment as they begin to see their choice was not necessarily what they would have chosen had they understood that it numbs them further to the healing from which they actually could benefit. Using the phrase “window of tolerance” can be a duality for a window into the actual brain for that tolerance and understanding. You are all giving us that window to help them learn about their brain reactions. We all need refreshers and new brain technology from our early education on the brain. I found one of those avenues back in the day was spect imaging by Daniel Amen when I worked with children labeled ADD, ADHD and the Autism spectrum. So many of these children were often damaged early in life for a variety of reasons.

  53. Mark kane says:

    I would like to talk with you and show you a movie trailer of humanitarian clowning with combat vets and dr Patch Adams
    I have been engaged with combat vets clowning in Guatemala that is powerful
    Please contact me. Many of these vets have experienced EMDR, Yoga, Ecotheraphy and strong trauma group work
    with Moral healing

    • Jill Morris says:

      Hi Mark,
      Spending time clowning with Patch has been among the most amazing experiences of my life. Every safe, intimate connection that we form, even if it’s for a short time, has undoubtedly been a process of mutual healing. If you are interested in getting in touch, I would love to meet another person who has an experiential understanding of humanitarian clowning. It would be interesting to explore how we can bring these experiences into our daily lives and our professional contexts (btw, I’m a psychotherapist).

  54. Jane Clapp says:

    I’ve found that coaching mindful strength training with a focus on decoupling physiological activation from affect has been remarkably resourcing for my clients. A great way to expand the window of tolerance and provide small yet tangible and embodied moments of victory. Then taking moments to install these feelings of strength and efficacy immediately after the movement is an important neuroplasticity component.

  55. Rapid Resolution Therapy, created and developed by Dr. Jon Connelly, targets the subconscious automatic patterns and learnings from the very first minute of treatment.

    • Vanessa says:

      Dr. Jon Connelly speaks the language of the emotional brain, a topic I’d love to hear more about. I wish there were more discussion about his work in particular.

  56. Terry says:

    Good stuff. Thanks for tips.

  57. Elena says:

    I have been using, as many other bodyworkers, this “lymbic system” regulation through very precise osteopathic approaches, for a decade. I’m glad that the field of psychology is recognizing, finally, the importance and inevitability of non-verbal approaches. I’m thankful for your series.

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